In the wake of a devastating flood that claimed the lives of thousands of residents and obliterated entire neighbourhoods, the eastern Libyan city of Derna is now witnessing fervent protests.
Hundreds of people have taken to the streets, expressing their anger towards the authorities and demanding accountability for the tragic events that unfolded.
Protesters gathered outside the iconic Al Sahaba Mosque in Derna on Monday, directing their frustrations towards various officials, including Aguila Saleh, the head of the eastern-based Libyan parliament. Some even went so far as to sit on the mosque’s roof, making a powerful statement against the backdrop of its golden dome – a cherished symbol of the city.
The chants of the demonstrators echoed through the air as they proclaimed, “Aguila, we don’t want you! All Libyans are brothers!” Their demands transcended personal grievances, highlighting the urgent need for national unity in a country that has been torn apart by over a decade of conflict and chaos.
As night fell, the protestors’ anger reached a boiling point, leading them to set fire to the house of Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi, who was serving as the mayor of Derna at the time of the disaster. This act of retribution showcased the extent of frustration and despair felt by the community.
In response to the mounting pressure, Hichem Abu Chkiouat, a minister in the eastern Libyan government, announced that Ghaithi has been suspended from his position. While this move indicates a certain level of accountability, it remains to be seen whether it will assuage the public’s anger and restore a sense of justice.
The backdrop of these protests is a deeply divided Libya, with two rival administrations vying for power. The internationally-recognised government, based in the capital city of Tripoli, contends with another self-proclaimed government situated in Benghazi. This political fragmentation, coupled with the increasing influence of renegade general Khalifa Haftar, has only exacerbated the sense of uncertainty and desperation felt by the Libyan people.
Monday’s protest serves as a significant demonstration following the devastating flood that hit Derna. The collapse of two dams during a powerful storm resulted in a catastrophic torrent, causing widespread destruction. As part of the protest, Said Mansour, a student participant, calls for an urgent investigation into the dam collapse and expresses grief over the loss of countless lives.
Taha Miftah, 39, believes that the government’s mismanagement of the crisis is to blame and emphasises the need for international intervention in both the inquiry into the disaster and its subsequent reconstruction.
The exact death toll remains unknown as thousands of individuals are still missing. Conflicting casualty counts have been reported by officials, with the World Health Organization confirming 3,922 deaths.
While Saleh attempts to shift responsibility away from authorities by labelling the flood as an “unprecedented natural disaster,” critics highlight pre-existing warnings regarding Derna’s susceptibility to flooding and the crucial maintenance required for safeguarding its dams found in academic research conducted by hydrologists last year.
The flooding in Derna serves as a stark reminder of the broader challenges faced by Libya. Decades of conflict, political instability, and a lack of proper infrastructure have left the country vulnerable to natural disasters and ill-equipped to mitigate their devastating effects.
As protesters continue to voice their grievances, it is vital for the authorities and international community to listen attentively and take meaningful action. Prompt and targeted assistance is needed to help rebuild shattered lives and restore hope to a city that has been ravaged by tragedy.